Adventures in Baseball Archeology: the Negro Leagues, Latin American baseball, J-ball, the minors, the 19th century, and other hidden, overlooked, or unknown corners of baseball history...with occasional forays into other sports.
Here’s a detail from a photo of Yankee Stadium in 1930, showing left field as it presumably looked (well, minus the marching bands, the goal posts, and the big “Baltimore Sun” watermark—and, obviously, from a rather different angle) to Josh Gibson in September 1930 when he hit his famous home run. In 1928 the grandstands had been extended into left field and now overlooked the bullpen.
When looking up the 1930 game in which Chino Smith was knocked unconscious, I realized that Josh Gibson, then only 18, had hit one of his most famous home runs just the day before (Saturday, September 27). His blast impressed many witnesses, including a number of players who later recalled it and reporters who wrote about it at the time. Most of the players, Homestead Grays manager Cumberland Posey, and Gibson himself all believed it was hit deep into the left field bullpen, perhaps hitting the back wall; Judy Johnson maintained that the ball “went over the stands, went over everything,” clear out of the park, but he was apparently alone in that belief.
The Grays and Lincoln Giants played a doubleheader on each day, Saturday and Sunday, as the conclusion of their series to determine the eastern championship. The famous home run happened in game two, Saturday; Gibson had already homered in the third inning of game one, a two-run opposite-field shot into the right field stands off Lincolns lefty Luther Farrell. Going into the ninth inning, the Grays led 8 to 5, but the Lincolns rallied for four to stun the Grays, 9 to 8.
In game two, though, the Grays jumped on Broadway Connie Rector for four runs in the first inning, and cruised to a 7 to 3 win. The four-run outburst in the first was keyed by two home runs, one by Vic Harris to right field, the other by rookie Josh Gibson, his second of the day.
Here are a few accounts of Gibson’s home run in the second game. The first is W. Rollo Wilson’s brief account of the game in the Pittsburgh Courier (October 4, 1930):
Here is the Baltimore Afro-American’s paragraph on the home run (October 4, 1930):
The Chicago Defender actually ran almost exactly the same story as the Afro-American—I am not sure which paper was reprinting from which, or whether they were both running the same wire story. In any case, the Defender’s version has one interesting difference:
To recap, Wilson in the Courier says it was hit “into the left field bleachers,” “the longest home run wallop of the year in Yankee Stadium,” over 430 feet.
The Afro-American agrees that it was hit into the left field bleachers and that it was the longest home run of the season in Yankee Stadium, but ups the distance to 460 feet.
The Defender says it was hit into the left field bleachers for 460 feet, but declares it “the longest home run that has ever been hit at the Yankee stadium by any player.”
I’ve got one more (very brief) account that I’ve never seen mentioned by anybody. It’s from the New York Amsterdam News (October 1, 1930), which published detailed batter-by-batter descriptions of both Saturday games. Here is the Grays’ first inning:
So, contradicting the Courier and Afro-American/Defender accounts, as well as Lincoln players Bill Holland and Larry Brown, Josh Gibson himself, and Cumberland Posey, the Amsterdam News has the ball hit on a bounce into the center field bleachers—what today would be a ground rule double. Such hits were, through 1930, counted as home runs. (I’ve seen several described in accounts of Negro league games in the 1920s.)
As it happens, such “ground rule home runs” were eliminated from the major league rules the following off-season, as described in the Chicago Tribune (December 13, 1930):
And in the New York Times, same date:
I don’t know whether or not the Negro leagues followed suit with this rule change. In any case, it is a little astonishing to think that the same hit could be described by one observer as bouncing into the center field stands, and others as going into the left field bleachers or bullpen, and by yet another as leaving the park entirely. Honestly, absent someone digging up some old footage somewhere, we will probably never know exactly where it landed.
View of Yankee Stadium down the left field line during the 1927 World Series.
UPDATE 5/6/2011 The grandstand was extended around into left field in 1928, so the photo above is not what Josh Gibson would have seen when he went to bat against Connie Rector in September 1930.
UPDATE 5/7/2011Here is a photo showing what left field in Yankee Stadium looked like in 1930.
UPDATE 5/14/2011 And here’s an aerial view of Yankee Stadium in the late 1920s, after the 1928 renovation. This probably gives you the best idea of the park’s configuration in the area of the left field bullpen.